They say that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But if that’s the case, I’m not really sure how to describe the kind of publicity “Marvel Divas” received when it was announced. “Bad” would certainly be a good start.
A large part of the negative reaction was based on the cover, which, having read the issue, is exposed as an almost laughably inappropriate piece of cheesecake from J. Scott Campbell. Even now, it’s hard to see the logic in putting such an openly exploitative cover on a book that’s otherwise trying hard to actively avoid the industry’s more sexist inclinations.
The premise of the book is a solid one: A bunch of B- and C-list heroines hanging out together, focussing on their downtime between assignments and dealing with their social lives instead of supervillains. “Sex and the City” is an oft-cited (and valid) reference-point. Unusually for a superhero book, the characters spend most of their time out of costume, and there’s no primary antagonist -- though by the end of the book, each character has her own personal nemesis, some more tangible than others.
Thankfully, Aguirre-Sacasa is a talented enough writer to take a cast of female leads and approach them as characters first, and women second. Hellcat retains the bubbly, flighty personality of her recent limited series, the Black Cat is showcased at her impulsive, headstrong best, while Photon retains her post-“Nextwave” edge. If any character is done a disservice, it’s Firestar, whose growth into an independent and confident young woman in Busiek’s “Avengers” run is undone in favor of making her the token wallflower.
There are some moments that feel a little like they’re overcompensating in an attempt to make the book inclusive for female readers, but in general the balance is well-struck. There’s a light-hearted yet introspective air to the story, although the tonal shift for the twist ending is perhaps a bit more than the writing can handle.
Tonci Zonjic’s artwork is great, managing to handle the extremes of tone far better than the plotting does. Zonjic manages to make both the brief superhero action and the conversational, off-duty scenes look like part of the same world, and given that the characters spend most of their time out of costume, it’s Zonjic’s particular attention to style and poise that keeps the characters both visually interesting and identifiable throughout.
For a book that had a lot of negative buzz attached to it, "Marvel Divas" has turned out far better than it could have. It might have a horrible cover. It might have a horrible title. But it’s a credit to the book’s creative team that beneath the layers of mis-marketing, there actually is a decent comic in there somewhere. Whether it can find its audience, or indeed, whether its audience can find it, well, that remains to be seen. But let’s hope so.
(Check out the first six pages of the issue in CBR's preview.)